April 16, 2014

Your stats are paralyzing your audience

When you're using statistics in a presentation, it's really easy to get caught up in the numbers. And unfortunately, just because those numbers are meaningful to you, it doesn't mean they're at all fathomable to your audience.

This is why it's important to break down big numbers into manageable and concrete concepts and visuals. Here are two ways to do this:

1. Portion large numbers into smaller bite-size chunks.

I'm working with a nonprofit project right now where 20 nonprofit leaders are getting training and coaching to develop three-minute "fast pitches." The top ten finalists in our competition will go on to an event where they'll be judged, and the winners will be awarded cash prizes. (Read about Fast Pitch here.)

Many of these nonprofits have big numbers: they serve large numbers of people, or they provide large quantities of food to their clients, or they need large sums of money to do their work.

The speakers who are most successful at conveying their numbers are the ones who make the numbers manageable for an audience. For example, asking each person in an audience of 300 to donate $200 a year for the next three years is much more effective than saying, "We need $180,000" and leaving it at that. As an individual who wants to help a local organization, that number is just too big for me. I'm paralyzed by it, and I'm pretty sure my meager $25 check isn't going to make a difference. So I don't write one.

2. Paint a picture, use an analogy or make a comparison, so the large number is equated with something familiar.

This sign above about how much our local zoo's herd of giraffes eats every year paints a vivid picture of how much grain equals 18,000 pounds. This amount of grain is hard to comprehend, but envisioning it as being the weight of a school bus gives me a much clearer perspective. There is no "ask" associated with this particular statistic, but perhaps knowing that my donation would help the zoo acquire a huge mountain of grain might inspire me to give money.

Here's an example I wrote about a few years ago that makes the size of a rocket easily understandable when juxtaposed against two things most of us are familiar with: a football field and the Statue of Liberty.

Many statistics in presentations are just tossed in with no thought to how they will affect the audience or if they will help persuade the audience to do the thing you want them to do as a result of your talk.

First, give more thought to how you are using your statistics and WHY you're using them. And then, when you have a good enough reason to use them, make the effort to create more manageable and concrete numbers for your audience, so they understand how the numbers fit into your overall message -- and are inspired, not paralyzed, by them.

Need some ideas for making your big numbers manageable? Post in the comments!

April 8, 2014

Leave your audience wanting more, not less

While scrolling through channels looking for movies to record one weekend, I found the following one-line movie descriptions:

1. French policeman hounds bread thief for life

2. Victorian orphan drifts, finds good people

3. An enslaved British doctor turns Caribbean pirate

4. An officer and shipmates overthrow a cruel captain

Can you guess what these movies are? (Answers are at the bottom.) More importantly, can you write a description this concise?

Here are some examples of when speakers might need to think concisely in both speaking and writing:

* When writing your bio
* When creating the title of your presentation
* When creating the description of your presentation for a printed or online conference program
* When writing a press release
* When communicating with busy event planners by e-mail
* When tweeting!
* When writing and delivering your presentation
* When creating and delivering your personal introduction (aka elevator speech)
* When giving a report at a meeting

Well, I think we can all agree that the list goes on and on, and in the interest of a concise post, I'll stop there.

Really test yourself and push yourself to be as concise as possible while also remaining clear and compelling. Nobody likes waiting for you to beat around the bush, hemming and hawing and saying the same thing five different ways. And nobody wants to read through all of your personal achievements just to get to the "good stuff."

Get to the point... and leave them wanting more, not less.

Did you guess the movies? The answers are below.

1. Les Miserables
2. David Copperfield
3. Captain Blood
4. Mutiny on the Bounty

March 28, 2014

PowerPoint Surgery: Tips to create presentation slides that make your message stick, not suck -- Guest post by Lee Jackson

There are 300 million PowerPoint users in the world and it's estimated that there are a million presentations happening right now. But most of them are dull or even bad. It's bizarre, and it can really hurt your career.

But there is hope. There is a better way. Here are a couple of tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

Once you have got to the the core of your talk, i.e. what's the main message (what do I want them to take away?) then, and only then - turn to your slide software.

Then the key is to...

Think billboard, NOT document.

This is probably the most important thing I can pass on.

People simply try to do too many things with their slides. Fundamentally, slides are for the audience, not for us the speaker. Although I admit it's tempting, they should not be our crutch. Once we understand that they are for our audience, we design them in a bigger and bolder way.

Feel free to make a word document to hand out after your talk if you like (although no one ever reads those documents in my experience), but don't make your slides in that way. Build them for the bored bloke in row 33.

Nancy Duarte helpfully compared slides to billboards in her book Slide:ology. Imagine you are passing your slides at 50mph on a major road. Could you read them as you drive past? If you can't, they are too complicated and wordy. It's a simple but effective test for us.

Design your slides and, if appropriate, write some handout notes. But, just to be absolutely clear, they are two very separate things. If you're going to produce a presentation slide deck, then do just that - don't be tempted to make it into a handout with a slightly larger font.

Bullets kill.

Bullets don't just kill people, they kill presentations too. Sometimes when I see speakers present a slide with bullet points you can almost feel the people in the room deflate. They may not groan out loud, but they are groaning inside. I've heard it said to limit the words on a slide to 33. I'd say 3-12! Any more than that, then either rephrase, condense or add another slide. Be tough on bullet boredom and the causes of bullet boredom.

Follow these quick tips this week and watch your presentations get better and better. Tell great stories, be yourself and let your slides be your backdrop not your auto-cue. Enjoy.

This article is an excerpt from Lee's book "PowerPoint Surgery: How to create presentation slides that make your message stick," available from Amazon. Lee Jackson is a motivational speaker, PowerPoint surgeon, presentation coach and the author. He's been speaking up front for more than twenty years in many challenging situations.

As well as speaking himself, he loves helping other people to speak well too. He is a fellow of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and also the president of the PSA Yorkshire region. He supports the New York Knicks, is a former youth worker and was once an award winning DJ. You can get in touch with him here: via leejackson.biz or twitter @leejackson.

March 25, 2014

Diet Coke: Just say no

An actress prepares to audition. A student prepares to speak in front of her class. A groomsman prepares to make a speech at a wedding. Taylor Swift prepares to perform.

But before they take the stage, each one takes a swig. Of Diet Coke.

I laughed when I first saw this commercial, because taking a swig of Diet Coke is the last thing I would recommend doing before going onstage to speak or perform.

For two reasons:

1. You very likely do NOT need caffeine when you're already hyped up on adrenaline. Caffeine is just going to make you more nervous and jittery. No thanks.

2. You also very likely do not need to BURP when you're speaking or singing, which is exactly what's going to happen when you're drinking a carbonated beverage right before performing.

I'm really not sure what their message is here. Is it that you need the caffeine to get through the next challenge? It's certainly not that Diet Coke is going to relax you and help your nerves.

Whatever the message is supposed to be, please take my word for it: Caffeine and carbonation is only going to make things worse for you onstage!

March 6, 2014

Come see me this weekend in Santa Barbara!

Sneak peek at what's in my Speakers Survival Kit!
Are you going to be around Santa Barbara this weekend? I've got two events coming up (well, one is technically on Monday), and I would love to have you join me!

1. On Friday and Saturday, I'll be at the Women's Festival at Earl Warren Showgrounds. 

My Expo booth will have interactive activities and a drawing for a fabulous Speakers Survival Kit (over $50 value).

Admission to just the Expo is $5.00.

2. On Monday, March 10, I'll be speaking at workzones in Paseo Nuevo.

The topic is "Speak to Engage: Make your Presentations Meaningful and Memorable." The event starts at 6:00 with networking, wine and cheese, and the presentation begins promptly at 6:30.

This event is FREE, but space is limited, so do RSVP. All the details are here.

I hope to see you this weekend in SB!

March 3, 2014

"You are all rock stars... literally!" Speech lessons from Oscar winners.

Today I want to give a shout out to Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, for their fun and engaging Oscar speech last night.

The pair won the Best Song Oscar for "Let it Go," the hit single from the animated film "Frozen."

Here's why this was one of my favorite acceptance speeches.


Most pairs or groups who take the stage to accept their awards aren't prepared. One person does all the talking and then someone else, if they're lucky, gets to blurt out a few words before the orchestra plays them off.

The Lopezes had their acceptance speech prepared in loosely rhyming structure and recited it together, alternating the names of people they wished to thank. It both saved time and made the speech more entertaining. They had clearly practiced!


They started off, "To our fellow nominees, you are all rock stars... literally." (Best Song, remember?)

Most of the humor was in the rhyming of the names, but the Lopezes also threw in a little ditty to the tune of "Happy Birthday:" "Happy Oscars to you. Let's do Frozen 2," directed at Pixar executive John Lasseter.

Their comic timing was perfect, and they knew exactly when to shout out together for extra emphasis ("Mom and Dad!")


At the very end, the couple stopped rhyming, and Kristen said a few heartfelt words to their daughters. It was a touching moment as Kristen's voice broke and she appeared to tear up.

When winners bring a list of names to the stage, I tend to want to tune out. After all, I don't know who any of those people are. I couldn't care less which executives the recipient feels the need to flatter and fawn over.

In this case, however, the Lopezes kept their speech short (under a minute), and incorporated humor, singing, rhyming and sentiment in a way that kept my attention, kept me smiling the whole time, and didn't feel like the gratuitous butt-kissing that so many speeches are.

Here's the speech if you didn't see it:

Watch here if it's not showing up...

What was your favorite speech of the night?

February 26, 2014

Visuals are the emotional heart of your story

Even though television is a visual medium, I don't find most commercials as visually compelling as they could be. There's also very little originality in how most advertisers are telling and selling their stories.

This one caught my eye, however, and I bet you can guess why. It reminds me of a simple image-based slideshow that enhances what the speaker is saying by conveying the emotional impact of her words. And by emotional impact, I mean that there are a variety of emotions triggered by the images, that help to "sell" her story.

Without the images, you don't get the full impact of what the narrator has experienced. The images fill in the blanks as though she were telling you her story in much more detail. The images are, in a way, a shortcut to understanding what she's been through, giving her story an emotional heart.

If you can't see the video on this page, click here to view on YouTube.

Are you using compelling visuals to make an emotional impact on your audience and help sell your ideas, or are you still dwelling in the dark ages of bullets and paragraphs of text?
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